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Obama Struggles With Smoking 'Addiction' as He Praises Congress for New Tobacco Regulations

WASHINGTON -- The White House acknowledged Friday President Obama is still struggling to break his smoking addiction even as the president congratulated Congress for passing tough new regulations that puts tobacco under control of the Food and Drug Administration for the first time.

Asked if the president still smoked, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama has "a struggle with nicotine addiction" every day.

Obama has a long history of smoking and a photo emerged of him during the campaign trail smoking as far back as college. During the presidential campaign, he chewed nicorette chewing gum in an effort to kick the habit.

Gibbs said he "assumed" the president still chewed the nicorette. The president dodged questions at the start of his administration about whether he was still lighting up.

The struggle to quit is one millions of Americans face, and Obama praised Congress earlier in the day for passing regulation on tobacco companies that supporters say they hope will curb the urge by new smokers to begin and lower the number of deaths each year. 

The House of Representatives passed the sweeping measure 307-97 moments before the president spoke. The Senate approved the legislation Thursday night 79-17.

"I'm proud the House and the Senate have acted swiftly and in overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion that will protect our kids and improve our public health," the president, a reformed smoker, said from the Rose Garden.

The bill aims to could curb the roughly 400,000 deaths a year attributed to smoking. It would allow the FDA to reduce how much nicotine is in cigarettes. It would also ban most cigarettes flavoring, excluding menthol. 

The legislation also enables the government to dictate how tobacco firms can advertise their product. Store displays can only be printed in black and white. They'll be prohibited from using phrases like "low tar" and "light" to describe their cigarettes.

The bill prohibits the FDA from banning smoking.

In 2000, the Supreme Court told Congress the FDA did not have authority to regulate tobacco until lawmakers changed the law. It hit several barriers as opponents stalled efforts to revise the rules.

Opposition in the House came from Republicans concerned about government intrusion in private enterprise and tobacco state lawmakers. Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., said people in his state believed "allowing the FDA to regulate tobacco in any capacity would lead to the FDA regulating the family farm."

The greater goal of the legislation is to reduce deaths linked to smoking and shrink the annual $100 billion health care price tag for tobacco-related illnesses.

Smoking is responsible for more than 30 percent of all cancer deaths, said Dr. Douglas Blayney, president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. The bill, he said, "should have a huge impact on reducing the death and disease brought on by tobacco use."

Special emphasis is given to decreasing smoking among young people. Anti-smoking groups say some 3,500 youngsters smoke their first cigarette every day, and of those, a thousand develop a smoking habit that can last a lifetime and result in premature death.

Altria Group, parent company of Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest tobacco company, issued a statement Thursday supporting the legislation and saying it approved "tough but reasonable federal regulation of tobacco products" by the FDA. Rival companies have voiced opposition, saying FDA limits on new tobacco products could lock in market shares for Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro cigarettes.

The industry, said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., who guided the bill to passage in the Senate, had long succeeded in excluding itself from federal regulation. "That now changes forever," he said.

"Passage of this historic legislation by both the House and the Senate is a victory for public health over Big Tobacco," said Dr. Nancy Nielsen, president of the American Medical Association.

FOX News' Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.